Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Free Speech...it works both ways...

I'm writing this post because of the recent events that occurred at University California San Diego. Follow this link to read about the off-campus "Compton Cookout" a group of fraternity students planned. The idea of the cookout was to dress "ghetto."

Here is an appalling excerpt from the event description and the dress code:

For girls: For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks -- Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes -- they consider Baby Phat to be high class and expensive couture. They also have short, nappy hair, and usually wear cheap weave, usually in bad colors, such as purple or bright red.

...The objective is for all you lovely ladies to look, act, and essentially take on these "respectable" qualities throughout the day.

Disgusting, I know. The reclaiming of degrading epithets may for some help take the power away from them, but throwing words around like ghetto, bitch, nigga, or countless others keeps these words in daily use and sends the message out that they are ok to say at all. And it gets even worse. Because this event was visible to the public via facebook, there was a large student reaction on campus. After this reaction, even more racially charged instances of hatred occurred:

Days after the cookout, the editor of the Koala, a campus publication known for mocking Muslims, Latinos and Asians, appeared on the university's student-run TV station to defend the event. While on the air, he referred to offended black classmates as "ungrateful niggers." The following day, a sign with the words "Compton Lynching" was found at the TV station. And on Thursday, a noose was hung in the Geisel Library.

Follow this link for the full article.

Hundred of students held a peace march across campus demanding the administration step in and take disciplinary action against the fraternity and the publication editor. The campus atmosphere has grown thick with tension as the issue of "free speech" comes to the forefront of the debate.

Now, I am no lawyer, so I really have no idea if the incidents have crossed the legal lines of free speech. I am a student on a college campus however. And sometimes I see these types of behaviors, slurs, and epithets practiced in my campus community. While the administration can reiterate the college's ideals and hold as many diversity workshops as they wish, cultural change must come from the students themselves. Yes there are hateful, ignorant people in all spaces, but there will always be those people.


I am so proud of the students and faculty at UCSD for using their voice to send the right message:

The age of Obama is not some fantasy post-racial America. If anything, having a president of color has intensified race tensions as fears of reverse-racism arise. The racial elephants in the room reveal themselves as soon as racist individuals feel that the people around them will have similar views. This is not about black versus white, this is about people committed to human equality and the ending of all oppression versus people who would rather perpetuate hate and ignorance. Allies can and should be found across all lines of diversity.

And yes there are those in the middle, the ambivalent. In fact, the ambivalent are probably the majority of students on campus. They are those who may or may not have an opinion either way but don't feel motivated to do anything about it. Those are the students these protests need to be aimed towards! Hate can be a powerful force, but love and dedication will prevail every time. "Your silence will not protect you," so don't ever be afraid to use your voice!